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Successful Tips when managing risks

I find whenever I introduce the risk log to people, their first thought is I don’t need it. I know what I need to do and will just mitigate as issues pop up. Well, if you have read the misconceptions of risk management, this is the third one on my list. If you are someone that does actually want to be proactive, avoid unwelcome surprises during execution, and want to effectively manage your risk log, then this blog is for you. Here are tips that made my projects successful during my 20+ years in project management:

  1. Conduct a pre-mortem with a cross-functional team when listing potential risks for your project instead of doing it alone. As experienced as you are, you are still a generalist and not a specialist in everything that is required in a project. Making sure that all the departments impacted by the project have a say on what can go wrong will help you build a healthy list of potential risks for your project during the planning stage. It will also help you as a project manager to assign owners to each risk which will support you in mitigating the risk.

  2. Make sure everyone on the project team understands the difference between an issue and a risk on the project. The two are quite different and yet we manage then as if they were the same. The issue has already occurred in the project, and you are now reactively managing it. While a risk is a potential issue that has not occurred, and you are proactively managing it so that it never happens.

  3. When the risk log has numerous possible risks, the way you manage them is by prioritizing to mitigate the high then medium risks first. Use a risk template that measures each potential risk using the risk priority number (RPN) score. RPN is calculated by looking at the potential risk’s severity, occurrence, and detection. The project team is to categorize each potential risk by how severe it would be for the project, when it would occur, and how easy it can be detected during execution. These three categories are then multiplied to calculate the RPN score. Sort the risks so to go from the highest score to lowest. This will help to prioritize what needs to be mitigated first.

  4. Have a process where risks are logged and updated in Realtime. Instead of waiting on the weekly project team meetings to update the risk log, put in place a risk process where anyone from the project team that suddenly identifies a risk during their work, can let you know and record the risk. This keeps the log current and makes sure that risks are identified to be acted upon instead of turning into issues.

  5. Don’t think you are facing risks that have never happened before in your company. There is a 95% chance that the same risk had occurred in the past. If your company does not have a “lessons learned” database to support you, then do the next best thing. Benchmark by speaking to other project or program managers. See what their worst issues were in their past projects. If you do not connect the dots during planning, you will be spending a lot of your time firefighting during execution.

  6. Don’t ignore the risk log from the contract managers. In many cases, a project is conceived before a project manager gets it on their desk to manage. There was a contract manager or similar role that spoke with the customer. They detailed out what the customer expectations were and what the project would be delivering to the customer. They should have also put together potential risks that could occur based on their analysis. These potential risks should be passed on to the project manager. The last thing you want to happen when you are managing a project is having the risk become an issue and when you reach out to your contract person, they tell you they thought that would have happened.

  7. Whenever a risk is identified, decide whether it should be discussed with the customer. We forget that the customer is our partner in the project and that the contract binds us. So, if there is a risk that may impact the project and felt by the customer, don’t wait until it turns into an issue. Discuss it with them because they may have some ideas on how to mitigate the risk as well. And if it does happen, then your customer wasn’t blind-sided.

Try out these tips if you haven’t in the past on projects you are on now. You will see they will make your life easier when you spend less time managing them as issues in execution. Let us know how well they work out for you…


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